The Israeli government and Hamas are engaged in a bloody physical struggle with each side convinced they are fighting for the survival of their nation.
The protagonists are concurrently engaged in a seemingly endless war of words about who started the current round of hostilities and who has moral right on their side. The propaganda wars, which fill the airwaves, are designed to bolster the credibility of each side, both domestically and internationally at the expense of the other. They are little more than mantras demonizing the “other.”
The question for each side now is how to get out of it, credibility and reputation intact. Complex multiple factors are at play, often ignored by the media driven by the sound clip and the four-minute interview.
Here are some of those considerations:
Hamas aims to:
a) Prove its will cannot be broken;
b) Emerge with honour, avoiding any perception of being the loser;
c) Demonstrate concrete physical gains for which terms are rumoured to have been present – among their current demands are access to the Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem for residents of Gaza, permanent opening of Rafah crossing point to Egypt with international guarantees it will not be closed;
d) Destabilize Israel and demoralize Israelis by convincing them they are increasingly vulnerable, inter alia through long-range rockets, handheld antitank weapons and increasingly effective IEDs,
e) Manage rapidly growing discontent among Palestinians, as recent polling by the Palestian Center for Public Opinion suggesting only 18 per cent view the current confrontation being in their best interest;
f) Minimize the accusation that it is their activism which is the cause of Palestinian hardship, the economic situation being desperate;
g) Avoid being outflanked in Gaza as being soft by the still more radical Islamic Jihad and other militant/terrorist entities;
h) Not least, ensure relief from the economic and social juggernaught imposed and arduously maintained by Israel;
i) Discredit and disempower the Palestinan Authority run by Abu Mazen, as being an effectively collaborator with Israel, thereby betraying the Palestinian nationalist cause.
The Israeli government aims to;
a) Stop the rocket attacks, including through a far-reaching ground war if necessary;
b) Degrade Hamas’ and other radical organizations military capabilities, in a situation where those groups have proved particulalrly tenacious, equipped with a surprisingly deep arsenal;
c) Recognizing Israelis live with an acute sense of vulnerability, maintain public confidence that any Palestinian challenge will be effectively met with a mailed fist;
d) Bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal standing that when it comes to existential threats, Israelis are in the best hands possible;
e) Emerge as the clears victor, declining any of Hamas’ demands that can be considered excessive;
f) Proceed cautiously with the ground war recognizing that full scale combat will bring a dramatic increase in casualties on both sides, as invasion of the cities will mean house to house fighting;
g) Avoid mission creep;
h) Utilize Egyptian good offices to the full, recognizing that the El-Sissi government is its defacto ally in combatting Muslim extremism, as represented by Hamas;
i) Recognize there is no foreseeable end to this struggle and be prepared to settle for the next best by buying two or so years calm, considerable that no matter how degraded it capabilities Hamas will spring back if past patterns hold true;
j) Manage international criticism respecting Palestinian civilians deaths and suffering by forwarnings of attacks as for instance roof-knocking to allow civilian to vacate targeted locales;
k) Minimize the disruption and economic cost of military mobilization.
We do not know how much deeper the Israelis will inject themselves in Gaza. Indeed there may as yet have been no decision, in what to date appears to have been a reflective step-by-step process. The Israelis’ only long-term alternative is an ultimate reconciliation with the moderates of the Palestinan Authority and a durable two-state peace, which given the recent John Kerry failure and unabated settlement growth in West Bank seems unlikely in the extreme.
For the Palestinians, their only hope is that of an empowered pragmatic and flexible Palestinian Authority with a mandate for a fair-minded accommodation.
Given the 100-year turf war between these peoples over the territory of the British Palestine Mandate, it would be best not to hold ones’ breath.